During the 1920s and 1930 there was a very controversial politician in Britain called Johnston. Once another notable politician was asked what was the difference between a tragedy and a calamity. The reply was: If Johnston were to be drowned in the Thames, that would be a tragedy. But if he were to come out alive, that would be a calamity.
Once Johnston made an unpleasant statement about the government. The entire media was up against him and for a full week there were devastating attacks on him but he did not respond. A journalist asked him about this and Johnston’s reply was: Just imagine the amount of free publicity I got all last week!
This humorous touch was not missing in India. In 1951, Rajendra Prasad outwitted Nehru and got himself elected the first President of the Republic though Nehru’s preference was for Rajaji, the Governor-General. Five years later, Nehru preferred Radhakrishnan as President but Rajen Babu again got the better of Nehru and was elected President. Rajen Babu was one of the most selfless freedom fighters and highly respected by Congressmen. After Independence, attitudes started changing, resulting in even a person like him manoeuvring to stay on as President for a second term. The then Editor of Deccan Herald, Pothan Joseph, wrote in his daily column, “Over a cup of tea”: “Rajen Babu was sitting in his presidential suite, eagerly waiting to give his reluctant consent to continue as President.” Readers had a good laugh but a badly hurt Rajen Babu wrote a nasty letter to the Editor.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee was another politician who regaled audiences with his humorous remarks. During an election meeting in Gujarat, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi told the gathering that she was a daughter of Uttar Pradesh and daughter-in-law of Gujarat and was seeking votes on that basis. Vajpayee later said Mrs. Gandhi had forgotten to say that she was also the mother-in-law of Italy. The audience had a hearty laugh and one journalist later wrote that this humorous remark of Vajpayee had brought the BJP a lot of votes.
People in Tamil Nadu are familiar with some three or four different forms of Tamil language like the Madras Tamil, Madurai Tamil, Tirunelveli Tamil etc. But in Karnataka, one can hear seven or eight forms of the language, some absolutely funny. Different sections of the Iyengar community such as the Hebbars, Mandayam people, and Hemmiges have their own versions while Madras Iyengars speak what can be called the Madras Tamil which is rather easily understood. Similarly, Iyers in Karnataka also have different versions of the language. The following humorous story by the legendary Kannada dramatist T.P. Kailasam (1884-1946) is written in one of the Iyer Tamil versions:
Hotel Ayyari mathu avana suputhra (Hotel Aiyer and his son)
Ayyari (father): Hey, have you performed well at least in this exam? Or did you do worse than that Thigalayya?
Son: This time that Thigalayyaa didn’t come. I have answered all the questions.
Father: Enkettaa…enneldhne…solldaa… (What did they ask? What did you write? Tell me).
Son: How does the moon look like, they asked. From Amavasya to Pournami, how the moon changes and looks like, all that I have written.
Father: Enneldhne… solldaa … (What did you write? Tell me).
Son: The moon on Amavasai night looks like one painted black…on the second and third nights he looks like karjur (dates)…then he becomes like obbottu (poli)…then he looks like a fried appalam…during the last day, Pournami he looks like a dosa. The stars look like a burning cracker… the clouds look like some thayir vadais floating in yellow water. They asked how sunset looks like, I have answered that one also.
Father: Whatever you have written, I have my own doubt…when they ask questions you took hotel after hotel and put them on your answer sheets…all right… how did you describe the sunset?
Son: I wrote that sunset looks like a kesaribath ball floating in yellow sambaar.
(Kailasam and his parents had migrated from Tamil Nadu and they spoke very good Tamil. He attained so much prominence in one Kannada literary field and was called Kannadakke Obbane Kailasam, meaning the one and only Kailasam for Kannada. This story is copied from a collection of Kailasam’s jokes published by Ankita Pusthaka, Basavangudi, Bangalore-560004. Kailasam was also a very good speaker in Telugu and could even compose on-the-spot verses in that language.)
(The writer is a former News Editor of The Hindu. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)